The Second World War was an incredibly bloody conflict that saw the deaths of tens of millions of people, both soldiers and civilians. Often overlooked, however, were the horses that were killed in this war-torn era.
As with many military conflicts before and since, horses suffered greatly during WW2, dying in huge numbers so that their riders could go on to achieve their objectives.
It’s possible that many of these horses suffered long, painful deaths at the hands of the enemy they were fighting alongside, while others simply had the misfortune to be run over by tanks or automobiles as they made their way across a battlefield.
The Disturbing Reality of How Many Horses Died in WW2
The U.S Department of War (DOW) reported that in just one year, 1944, almost 2,000 horses died in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). In the Pacific Theater, it was even worse—almost 3,000 horses perished between 1941 and 1945.
But those are only the numbers we know of. Many horses that died overseas never got a name or an official military service number because they weren’t U.S.-owned animals and they were considered enemy property…but they deserved to be remembered just as much as their military comrades did. So how many horses died in WW2?
Results – World War II
World War II was one of the bloodiest wars in human history. It has been estimated that more than 50 million people were killed during the course of the war, which is more than twice as many people as died during World War I. The death toll includes at least 15 million military personnel and 25 million civilians.
This number is a staggering statistic. But what might be even more disturbing is how many horses died during the course of this war.
In 1939 there were over twenty-six million horses living in Europe alone, but by 1945 there were only eight million left alive. What happened to all those horses? Some sources say they were used as transportation for soldiers or food for them to eat – some estimates put the figure at around 12 million animals who perished due to their involvement in World War II.
Results – World War I
World War II was another war that had a large impact on the horse population. In World War I, there were around half a million horses were killed; however, in World War II, this number increased to around two million.
This is because more mechanized weaponry was being used. Horses would also die from disease and starvation if they were not captured and given food by their owners.
The number of horses who died in these wars is unknown, but it has been estimated that it’s between three and five million.
Not only did these wars contribute to the deaths of many horses, but they also contributed to the death of many humans as well. We will never be able to know how many lives have been lost due to warfare throughout time because there are so many factors involved.
Horses in World War II
In World War II, horses were used by belligerent nations for troops, artillery, transport of supplies, and to a lesser extent mobile cavalry. The role of the horse for each nation depended on its military strategy and the state of its economy, and this was most evident in the German and Soviet armies.
During the war, both Germany (2.75 million) and the Soviet Union (3.5 million) maintained more than 6 million horses.
Between 1928 and the start of World War II, most British cavalry regiments were mechanized. The United States maintained a single cavalry regiment stationed in the Philippines, and the German Army maintained a single brigade.
The French Army of 1939–1940 incorporated horse regiments into its mobile divisions, and the Soviet Army of 1941 had thirteen cavalry divisions. Italian, Japanese, Polish and Romanian armies used considerable cavalry.
A Brief History of War-Horses
Horses have been integral to warfare for centuries. They were used primarily as a means of transport, and it was only when the medieval era gave way to the modern era that they found other uses on the battlefield.
Pigs were also utilized during World War II by the Germans, who are said to have slaughtered two million pigs during their occupation of Poland. Necessity breeds innovation: as Germany began to run out of food supplies and fodder for their livestock, so began breeding pigs and using them as a food source.
The tactic soon spread throughout German-occupied territory: millions more animals would be bred or appropriated from their owners before the war ended.
Historians estimate that over six million horses died in WWII; although this is still under debate, there is no denying the brutality of wartime. It’s estimated that one horse died every four seconds due to hunger and illness during the siege at Leningrad alone.
Why are Horses Used in War?
Horses were a major part of military life in the early 20th century, and they were used extensively during World War II. These animals were crucial to the military machine because they could carry supplies, haul equipment, and act as transportation for the troops.
They also helped cavalry units move around quickly and efficiently. In total, about six million horses died during World War II – three million from battle wounds and another three million from disease or starvation.
A lot of these deaths occurred on the Eastern Front, where it was common for soldiers to abandon their dying horses so they could make their escape back to friendly lines.
The lack of food was due mostly to Soviet Union’s scorched earth policy, which involved destroying anything that might be useful to Germany if they invaded Russia (and there were quite a few German invasions).
Horse Care on the Battlefield
In World War II, horses were used extensively on the battlefield. They helped with transportation and pulling supply carts. Combatants on the ground often depended on their horses for protection and security, as well as for survival.
When a horse’s strength was depleted, it would be put out to pasture to recuperate and be used again when needed.
Sadly, many animals became so exhausted or injured that they had to be euthanized due to a lack of resources. The size of this problem is staggering:
A survey from 1940-1945 found that an estimated 640,000 horses were killed on the battlefields of Europe alone. Today there are about 4 million horses worldwide; if we apply the same mortality rate, there could have been up to 2 million additional fatalities just among these four years. These numbers are staggering and make us appreciate all the more our faithful companions who serve us every day.
Effects of Chemical Weapons on Animals
In the early 1940s, chemical weapons were used as a means of warfare on a large scale. The first use of chemical weapons was at Ypres on April 22nd, 1915 when chlorine gas was released into the trenches.
This is just one example out of many that occurred in World War II. Chemical weapons like mustard gas and nerve gas can cause damage to the respiratory system and skin to name a few.
They can also lead to blindness, internal bleeding or death. It’s estimated that around 100 million animals died from exposure to these weapons during the course of WWII.
Animals who are living near areas where chemicals have been dropped are often seen with injuries to their eyes and ears. For example, horses may be found with blisters on their skin if they have been exposed to liquid mustard gas.
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